CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 9 (PART 2 ) – Researching photographers :
Jack Latham curator tour & sugar paper theories talk RPS Bristol & Tony Ray Jones exhibition at Martin Parr studios
17TH NOVEMBER 2019.
In June 2019 I started my MA with Falmouth university as part of an accredited education programme.
CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH WEEK 9 ( PART 3 ) – RESEARCHING PHOTOGRAPHERS – MANN -https://www.bambino-art.co.uk/contextual-research-week-9-researching-photographers-mann/
On Saturday I headed to Bristol for the face to face event that had been organised by the university. First we headed to Martin parr foundation where we visited the current exhibition “The English seen by Tony Ray-Jones”
Image screenshot from a video with thanks to @Gem Toes-Crichton
I loved this shot of the headland hotel taken from Fistral beach. It’s so funny that apart from the fact there would be many many more people now, and many many more holiday cottages have been built by the hotel, the scene is essentially the same now as it was then.
I absolutely adore the passion captured in this shot. It is like this couple is completely oblivious to everyone else around them. It also brings up issues about what photographers used to capture and what they will capture now as “street” photography. I think most people now would shrink away from capturing such an intimate portrayal of affection. They may be on a boat surrounded by people, but it is an intensely private moment. To say nothing of the fact that everyone else around them seems as completely oblivious to them in return. It really is a captivating photograph.
This capture is just wonderful. The juxtaposition of the constricting , conservative top hat and tails , and the relaxed freedom of the beach works really well together. I also love how the lad at the back looks much more laid back and relaxed whilst looking assumably wistfully out to sea , appearing desperate for that freedom and abandonment.
AFTER THE MPF EXHIBITION WE HEADED OVER TO RPS FOR THE SUGAR PAPER THEORIES CURATOR TALK WITH MARK RAWLINGSON. I HAD BEEN REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS AS I HAVE WATCHED A LOT OF THE BACK CATALOGUE OF THE GUEST LECTURES SINCE STARTING THE MA, AND THE ONE WITH JACK LATHAM WAS DEFINITELY ONE OF MY FAVOURITES OF THE WHOLE COLLECTION, TO SEE HOW A CURATOR WOULD WORK WITH HIM/HIS WORK WAS SOMETHING I WAS VERY INTERESTED TO SEE, AND IT DEFINITELY DIDN’T DISAPPOINT.
Mark explained the story behind sugar paper theories, and how Erla still has a perjury charge against her, and how lying is a common thread through sugar paper theories, the book and exhibition. He then went on to explain the background to the story & theories of what happened.
Mark explained the differences between the book & exhibition and how they haven’t tried to replicate the book as it is a tactile thing.
Explained the use of the french fold in the book and how it is a play on both revealing and not revealing the full picture, and how the hand that is used to push down the page, is symbolic of “the hand” that is in every part of this case, manipulating things.
Mark talked about the starting images they chose of the diaries , and of the hole into the basement of the red house. How the basement is symbolic of our decent ‘into’ the rabbit hole / the abyss of the case. Also the play in the visual narrative of how the diary rotated fits nicely over the top of the basement hole , like a lid over the case.
The images also talk of the mystery of the case, & how we chase the mystery through the exhibition.
The aim of the exhibition is to make the viewer think about what happened, not tell you what happened.
Mark then discussed the combination of the police photographs from the case and how they work with Jacks photographs.
The materiality : ” Everything in this exhibition is supposed to remind you that none of these things happened by themselves.”
That the images are part of a conceptual process.
Mark explains how the photographs jack took are not necessarily photographs of what they appear to be. So he photographed the cafe where one of them men disappeared, except it isn’t the cafe, because that cafe is no longer there, it is what is in it’s spot now.
So jack is lying to us, “you think that this is the place, it’s not the place, but it is the place, but it’s not THE place .”
The exhibition teases you into thinking ‘what am I being shown’.
Mark then discusses the use of pairing different images together, and how they have used that to make suggestions to you.
Mark spoke about the image of the tranquil Icelandic sea didn’t come at the end of the exhibition which is where a lot of people thought it should come, as it’s a nice image to end on. Explains the history of the cod wars, the contraband problems in Iceland at the time, and how the sea symbolising extreme danger in Iceland.
Explains the use of people in the project such as the dock worker and gas station worker that are representations of the people or environment that was relevant at the time of the investigation or disappearances .
Explains memory distrust syndrome.
Explained in an exhibition someone will look at an images for an average 3-4 seconds. They tried to alter this by prompting people to go back around the exhibition searching out ‘clues’ that are repeated in many of the images.
The play of how when you are facing an image you cant be facing the one behind you, so you are blind to it, symbolism to the police investigation of looking over things , missing things.
Explained Jacks use of the rock photograph and how it suggests a more scientific way of looking at things. Implying ‘evidence’ through the images.
After mark finished he asked us if we had any questions. I had SO SO many , but limited myself to three ! They were -
Did they intentionally set out to make the layout of the exhibition resemble the timeline over the conspiracy theorists desk, that is the cover to the book …
NO was the resounding answerhowever he did say the exhibition is a collaboration between him and jack and they did both have , obviously, subconcious thoughts so ….. who knows how things infiltrate, as is the whole premise of the book and exhibition obviously !
I then asked (only somewhat half jokingly!) if they kept it that cold in there on purpose to remind us/them of Iceland, because it was FREEZING , they obviously hadn’t but he did joke it would of been a good idea if you had been able to see your breathe as you were walking round.
I then discussed how the sound of the air conditioning sounded like the beat of the sea in the distance. Interesting mark was saying the first time he saw the space was when they space exhibition was on (that we attended at the last face to face there) and how the air conditioning hum had sounded like the hum of being in space in a spaceship .
My last question was regarding the grey of the walls and if they had done that to remind us of the landscape/light of Iceland, or as a metaphor for nothing is black and white in life but all a bit grey, or if it was simply an aesthetic choice …
Mark thought it was “a great observation” . He said they had been keen for it to not be white and like the snow, blinding. They wanted the grey to be slightly darker than it was, but it was a basic visual of the grey makes everything stand out more, but also that “everything about this exhibition is about gaps. and obscured things, so no matter where you go and how much you look at, there will be gaps. Whether it is the gaps between the work, the forms of intrusion in the gaps, all of those things are supposed to , kind of, suggest that theres nothing ……you know, other than what you see, what can you really know about that, and if we try to talk about everything in it’s totality do we end up being like little conspiracy theorists. Should we all go away and write our own 6 volumes about how we think this happened & who did it. So, yeah, I think the end is not to tell you , you should think this, about this, other than you should really worry about photography as a thing that tells the truth, is probably the easiest take away. But yeah, the grey thing I think thats a really good observation.”
Another student then asked about the choosing of the police archive images, and the decision to not caption them. Mark explained that he picked a load and then left the final decision to Jack, but they actually ended up the same or very similar photographs to each other. The captioning was partly aesthetic “grey is nice, captions are ugly” so they tried to keep them to a minimum . But that they are left out deliberately , as captions lock things down, but they wanted the images to be part of a stream of things, that spoke to each other, and they didn’t want to control that conversation, and also to leave people thinking “WHY”.
After the tour by Mark we went for lunch where everyone was full of interest about what we had just seen. I purchased the sugar paper theories book that had just had it’s second reprint, after running out of the first one (currently selling for roughly £300 each on ebay) . We then went back to attend the panel talk with Jack Latham, Mark Rawlingson, Gisli Gudionsson & Erla Bolladottir .
The talk was absolutely fascinating. Not just from a photographic point of view, but from a psychological point of view definitely, and also hearing Erla talk about what Iceland was like at the time, and how she views the book from her point of view. I found this really interesting, as she said, the book is an artistic representation of what happened, what actually happened was much MUCH worse. This was really quite humbling/illuminating. Everyone is there going mad for this book and story, but as I messaged Jack about later that evening on instagram, people forget that this is a real person, a person still fighting for justice from the most unimaginable ordeal, to be psychologically manipulated in such a way, to be taken from your baby daughter, to suffer so much time in solitary confinement , we cannot imagine. The book is wonderful in that it draws attention to the case and helps put pressure on the Icelandic government to remove Erla’s conviction and try to recompense in some way for what they did, but we cannot forget that these are real people whos whole lives have been marred by this.
Also, she said I had cool hair, so I liked her !
I have this evening also just watched the netflix documentary that was made with Erla . Showing actually , I think how this book can really effect you and drag you in, how the story leaves you wanting more. How much of that is the story though, and how much is jacks presentation of the story to us ?
Google search for ‘ Netflix documentary out of thin air ‘… https://www.google.com/search?q=netflix+documentary+out+of+thin+air&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiDm8L4__nlAhXQQEEAHZUZBxUQ_AUoA3oECBMQBQ first accessed 21st.11.2019